Saturday’s Portrait: a Juvenile Magellanic Penguin
Rescued from the relative obscurity of a nearly two-year old post about an unforgettable stroll with a few thousand oddly cute thigh-high flightless birds is this portrait of a juvenile Magellanic Penguin who, if all things went reasonably according to nature’s plan, made its way back the Beagle Channel a few months ago where it found a mate on Martillo Island and now spends much of its time staring at the waves that pound away at shorelines near the bottom of the earth.
You’re in a wind-swept unforgiving setting surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of oddly cute thigh-high creatures, most of whom are standing relatively still, blankly staring at the violent waves, their flippers flapping in the stiff winds. During your hour-long stay, you’ll notice that blankly staring from the shore takes up a great deal of their time. So does waddling about aimlessly. Not wholly unlike humans who vacation in seaside or island settings. But Martillo Island –Isla Yécapasela is its native Yagan name— was never a holiday resort.
Martillo Island isn’t the only place they gather to mate, but it is one of the southernmost spots. (To get a feel of the island, check out this 60sec video I posted here previously.) From the Bird Life International:
Spheniscus magellanicus breeds on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America, in Argentina (at 63 sites), Chile (at least 10 locations), and the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) (Ellis et al. 1998), with some migrating north to southern Brazil (Frere et al. 1996). Vagrants have been found as far north as El Salvador in 2007 (O. Komar in litt. 2007), and south to Avian Island (67°, 46’S) on the Antarctic Peninsula (Barbosa et al. 2007), as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Globally the population is estimated to be about 1.3 million pairs, with 950,000 of those along the Argentinian coast. A typical lifespan in the wild for Magellanic Penguins is 25 to 30 years, according to the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web, but the current population trend is decreasing. Since 2004 it’s been assessed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN):
The main threat appears to be oil pollution, which was thought to kill more than 20,000 adults and 22,000 juveniles every year on the Argentinian coast, although this threat is now much reduced. Mortality may increase in the future if petroleum extraction is developed offshore of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). The expanding Argentinian anchovy fishery may threaten the largest known colony at Punta Tumbo, and there is no mechanism to quantify the impact of the fishery. Penguins are hunted for bait in Punta Arenas, Chile, and are often caught in fishing nets, particularly in Patagonia.